Letter To Jefta: On the Gaze

From a series of letters to the artists of Flutgraben Performances Season #2 during the Corona pandemic in 2020

Moritz Majce

Dear Jefta,

I wanted to reply to your questions and then continue with my insight, but somehow it ended up a bit more mixed up, I hope that is okay.

1. What speaks most to you in this text?[1]

What speaks to me immediately is the eye contact of two bodies in a landscape, the moment their gazes meet each other, the naked eye of the animal, and the looking back of the human eye – the moment of eternity before the action starts. I do feel a resonance between this story of a meeting of a human eye and a crocodile eye – the striking moment of dehierarchisation it meant for the reanimalised human –, and one of the basic concepts of my own artistic practice: the idea of understanding the role of the spectator not as merely looking at a work of art but as being in a situation of mutual watching – that is: looking at a work of art that is looking back. By this I do not mean a directed gaze of a single performer trying to involve a passive viewer into an action. What I am interested in is not tearing down the fourth wall of the theatre, it is not about the end of the spectator. What I am looking for is a gaze, a plurality of gazes that act as possible entry points: a touch, an opening, a permeation that allow myself as a spectator to perceive myself as being inside the work of art as well as staying outside; to experience myself not as the target of a presentation but as a gateway in a stream of changing contacts and connections. It is a state that cannot be achieved through reflection or imagination as it needs some agent from outside to reach this point of tangency – such as the impact of being touched by a gaze that is facing me without limiting itself to my presence. This gaze is fragile and open, transmitting, affecting my body – allowing myself to leave my own “walled-moated-castle-town”, letting myself being carried away into a both intimate and delimited expanse. It is a gaze that draws its power from its sheer emanation, without protecting itself or holding back, that it is neither social nor in need, that trusts to be faced and met without restraint, poised to release every soul it meets. It is an eye contact that is not like a bullet shot out of a head but surges from the whole body; a looking that is a harmonic and integral part of a body’s movement; that affects me, pervades me, makes me listen to its presence, to a flux of forces my body is diving into, being carried away, being danced in an ongoing composition. It turns me into a spectator who is looking at a work of art and is at the same time being looked at by the gazes of the work of art, all of them opening up (in)to each other. In this relation the spectator becomes an immanent part of the work of art without getting absorbed by it; moving through a work of art that does not deliver itself to an external observer but offers itself as a landscape to be explored. It is about the moment in which the alien other that is in you, the alien that is you, appears; about being a body among others, about watching the interwoven course of movements, branching out, infecting each other. It’s not a reflection but an affection, not a knowing but a sensing, an intense glimpse – “I glimpsed the world ‘from outside’ the narrative of self.” This narrative’s other is made of a manifold fabric of knotted weaves. In its stream of perceptions and affections that you are made of, there is still your eye watching, in a twisted simultaneity of being inside and outside. “What is around you is no longer outside of you but at the same time you are no longer inside of yourself.”[2] It is a watching that does and does not belong to your “I”, a watching that becomes one aspect among many aspects of the work of art – like an organ is a part of an organism, but not its final cause. Both watching of a work of art (from outside / as spectator) and being pervaded by it (from inside / as being part of it) belong to each other. It is like the indivisible togetherness of being food and having soul.

2. What is the strongest artistic impulse you get from this text?

It feels like a well-known, yet fruitfully renewed impulse, as the text is addressing many aspects of the piece Aeon I am working on at the moment together with Sandra, and that is planned to be shown later this year: from the desire to make an outdoor piece, to the relation of single bodies in the spatial expanse of a landscape, to images of caves and rocks and sounds of wind, to the natural course of light, from dawn to dusk to glowing screens at midnight, to the experience of a time that is external to humans, a time of the outside, a geological or planetary time, the time of this planet: earth time. I think the most fundamental impulse however comes from the specific mutual relation of inside and outside that is emerging in the at first sight quite different situations of an eye-to-eye contact between human prey and animal predator, and a spectator’s encounter with a work of art. Yet in both cases I recognise two parallel streams flowing together, overlapping, crossing each other. I like to call this relation the twist. In order to give you a clue how this concept is put into practice in my own artistic work I would like to give a quick introduction into my working approach: Since 2015 I am working together with Sandra on a practice we call space choreography. Space choreography takes place in spatial constellations through living bodies, dancers and spectators, their movements, sounds, voices as well as through objects, images, texts, and videos. By “space” we mean relating, by relation we mean movement. We work on relationships within a body, between bodies, between bodies and other things; we work on perception (listening, seeing, sensing), moving and being moved, looking and being looked at as ways and forces of opening and relating to each other. It is an interplay of different elements and qualities, of movements, pulsations and rhythms that pass through its participants and unfold between them. In space choreography there is no frontal juxtaposition of stage and auditorium, but only a flowing overall environment, the space chorus being its moment of motion. A space chorus is basically a group of dancers trained to be receptive both among each other and to their outside, using these abilities not to perform their movement in front of an audience but to share and expand on their mutual presence with visitors, thereby creating a specific spatial quality we call landscape. In this landscape the relation of performers and spectators becomes that of inhabitants and visitors of an area. As the relation between the spectator and the work of art changes – the spectator not being any longer the goal of a presentation, yet without being eliminated, he*she may develop a way of looking that corresponds to the landscape: a contemplative or meditative gaze, a certain kind of immersion, a “watching with” rather than looking at an opposite. The challenge is to give up choosing between one side or the other – spectator as a counterpart versus participator in an action – but to welcome the parallelity of being inside and outside at the same time at the same place. For a dancer this means, instead of presenting her*himself to an audience, to move together with his*her co-dancers and with the presence of the visiting spectators’ bodies. For a spectator this means to attend a live installation in which she*he is not the reference point of what is taking place but one aspect among others. In space choreography the spectator is not the counterpart of a performance, but a present of the landscape.

Take care,

Moritz

20 May 2020

[1] referring to “The Eye of the Crocodile” by Val Plumwood

[2] Quoted from Sandra’s insight Public Elsewhere on 17/05/20.